Copywriting Basics - Reviewing and Polishing Your Work
The advice in this article is aimed at bringing your copywriting skills up to the highest professional level and ensuring that your services are in ever-growing demand from clients.
We start by discussing practical ways you can improve your copywriting skills, with a range of hints and tips for polishing your work. We examine the importance of getting feedback from clients, and in particular how to accept - and indeed solicit - criticism. The latter is very important, as if you don't get constructive criticism on your work, it will be that much harder for you to improve.
The article goes on to examine ways of boosting your creativity, including brainstorming and other idea-generating techniques. We discuss working with graphic designers and how to get the most from the copywriter/designer relationship. Following that, we set out some advice from the great copywriters of the past and present. And finally, the article describes a selection of online and off-line resources for further improving your copywriting.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR COPYWRITING SKILLS
By now you should have a good grasp of the basics of copywriting, so in this part of the article we are going to set out a range of tips for polishing your skills and taking them to the 'next level'.
The tips are arranged in sections according to the order in which you would apply them. Some of the points covered here have been discussed in earlier articles, but by bringing them all together in this way, we hope this will also serve as useful revision for you.
The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it sets out the most important points to bear in mind. We hope you will find it instructive, and that it will help you write better copy that generates more sales for your clients.
1. Research and Planning
To begin with, here are some important points to consider before you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).
- Ensure you know your target audience fully. What are their hopes and dreams? What are their greatest worries? What makes them sad or happy? What do they most want to achieve?
- Research the topic of your copy in depth. Gather as many documented facts and figures as possible to back up your claims.
- Look out especially for little-known (but relevant) facts that will make your reader sit up and take notice. Some of the most successful advertisements began when the copywriter discovered a surprising fact that could be turned into a powerful sales message.
- Read what your prospects read, so you know what's on their minds, what kind of language they might use, and the points of view that are most likely to resonate with them.
- Stay abreast of the news, so that you can refer to topics that are likely to be on your prospects' minds right now.
- But don't wait for inspiration to strike before you start writing. Once you've done your research, get to work. If you really can't think how to begin, write the order form or call-to-action first. This gets you started, and can help ensure that the rest of the copy is written with the call-to-action in mind.
2. Focusing on the Reader
Here are some tips on how to engage readers' interest and ensure that they are responsive to your sales message.
- Remember the five words every prospect is asking when reading your copy: 'What's in this for me?'
- Readers today are busy and easily distracted. They have no patience for a copy that is irrelevant to their wants and needs. Don't bore them, therefore, or make them wade through a lot of irrelevant detail to get to your message.
- Address your copy to people who are at least moderately likely to buy your client's product or service. There is little point addressing people who aren't interested, as they are unlikely to get past the headline anyway.
- Tap into your reader's emotions. Show that you understand and sympathize with how they feel. Acknowledge their problems. Be their friend.
- Never scold your readers for being in a situation where they need your client's product or service. But a little good-natured ribbing may be acceptable, especially if you reveal how you have been in their situation yourself.
- Assume that your reader won't move a finger or budge from their chair unless you induce action through your copy. That means coming up with compelling reasons for them to act and act now.
- Don't try to make your reader change his habits or behavior, or think in unfamiliar ways to accept your message. If you do, you are addressing the wrong audience. Instead, target your copy at people who are already inclined to buy what your client has to offer.
3. Headlines and Sub-headings
These are the first things a prospect is likely to see when looking at your ad. A good headline will capture your reader's attention and draw him into reading the copy. Sub-headings keep the reader interested and involved, and can be helpful for navigating longer documents. Here are some tips on creating great headlines and sub-headings.
- If you're stuck for inspiration, go back to the successful 'classic' headlines. You'll almost always find a few good ideas to borrow or build upon.
- Another technique is to start with 'How to...' and finish the thought. This will help get your copywriting brain into gear.
- If the product offers something new and original, say so strongly in your headline. Show the prospect that this is the very thing he has been waiting for.
- Avoid headlines that state the obvious. For example, 'Kids grow up so fast', 'It's a dangerous world out there' or 'Your health matters'. It's easy for a reader to nod in agreement at such statements and pass on. Your headline should aim to stop the reader in his tracks and make him want to know more.
- Especially avoid using the company name as the headline in an advertisement. This will mean nothing to most people and is highly unlikely to attract their attention or arouse their interest. The best place for the company name is normally at the foot of the ad.
- Try to incorporate the words 'you' or 'your' in the headline, or at least imply them. If neither word is in the headline, it should almost certainly appear in the first paragraph.
- A powerful technique in headline writing is to promise the reader a benefit just for reading the copy and then deliver on that promise. For example, 'What's the number one secret to looking good for less?' The copy might reveal that the 'secret' is building your own mix-and-match 'capsule wardrobe', as a lead-in to an advertisement for a book or course revealing how to do this.
- Include enough sub-headings throughout the copy to keep the reader's attention from flagging. This is especially important when writing website copy, as this requires more effort to read than a printed copy.
- Write your sub-headings so that they provide a logical progression, even for people who skip over the body copy.
- Aim to make your sub-headings intriguing in their own right. Asking questions can be good, as this forces the prospect to read on to discover the answer. Try to avoid sub-headings that are merely statements that don't lead anywhere.
- Remember that sub-headings shouldn't just reiterate copy from the previous section. Rather, they should pave the way for what comes next.
4. The Body Copy
Having gained your prospects' attention with your headline, the body copy is, of course, where you arouse their interest and stimulate their desire to buy. Here are some tips on making your body copy as effective as possible:
- If you're writing a sales letter or email - and it's technically feasible to do so - start your message with 'Dear [Name]'. Personalizing your sales message can boost the response rate to a mailing significantly.
- Begin the copy with your strongest selling point. Don't beat around the bush - aim to capture the reader's interest straight away.
- Remember that information presented at the beginning and end of a message is remembered better than that in the middle.
- Stick to describing the benefits that interest a reader, not the features that are only of interest to the company.
- Aim for as high as possible a proportion of 'you copy' against 'we copy'. Calculate the customer-focus ratio, as described in Copywriting Basics - Advertising and Copywriting Tips. If it's under 50%, revise your copy to give it a stronger focus on the reader.
- Paint pictures in the reader's mind. Don't just TELL him how much better his life will be as a result of buying your client's product or service, SHOW him. Sell the sizzle, remember.
- Find ways to connect with your readers, so they say, 'Yes, that's just like me.' Of course, this will require knowing what your prospects are like and what they will relate to.
- If it's possible and appropriate, incorporate stories and examples into your copy. Again, these can help bring your sales message to life for readers.
- Work questions into your copy, to keep the reader involved and stimulate their interest in buying.
- Give your readers a solid rationale for buying, so that they can justify their emotional decision to purchase with logical reasoning. This will help them convince themselves of the value of buying, and give them arguments to convince their nearest and dearest if required.
- Ensure that the reader sees you (or your client) as an authority on the product or service you offer - by how you talk, the knowledge you convey, and how you position yourself against competitors.
- Answer the prospect's likely objections in the body copy, but try to avoid raising objections the prospect would not have thought of.
- Only make claims about your client's product or service that you can prove, and back up every claim you make with facts, figures or quotes from recognized authorities.
- But avoid cramming your copy with facts just because you found them in your research. Use them sparingly, to make a selling point or back up a claim.
- Give the reader a sense of ownership by talking to him as though he owns the product or uses the service already. Describe how it feels, and write as if the prospect is enjoying the benefit from it already.
- Paradoxically, stating that your client's product/service isn't perfect can make your claims about it more believable. For example: 'Our course won't make you a millionaire overnight, but if you put its principles into practice, you'll be building a better future for yourself and your loved ones.' Of course, it's even better if you can turn a flaw into an advantage of some kind.
- Don't try to sell your prospects what they need; sell them what they want. For example, people need to exercise more and eat a healthier diet; what they want is a fast and easy way to lose weight. People need to save more and spend less than their income; what they want is a quick and easy method to make more money.
5. The Call to Action
In many ways this is the most important part of any ad. Having captured your prospect's interest and stimulated his desire to buy, this is where you prompt him to take action. Here are some tips to ensure that as many readers as possible take the action you (and your client) desire.
- Build up the value of the product or service so much in the copy that when you reveal the price, readers feel like they're getting a bargain.
- Don't try to sell more than one thing. Offering too many choices usually reduces response.
- Motivate your readers to act now. If possible, include a time limit on the offer.
- Make your proposition so attractive that the prospect can't resist. You may have to work with your client to improve the offer, e.g. by adding free gifts.
- If your client is reducing his prices, give credible reasons: he needs to make way for new stock, the items are slightly damaged, the company is celebrating its 20th anniversary, or whatever. Also, if the price seems incredibly low, explain why: this is an introductory offer to new customers, you're conducting a marketing test, etc.
- Ask for the order - repeatedly if space allows. Don't be shy about it.
- Tell the prospect exactly how to order. Don't assume it's obvious what they need to do: 'Get out a pen, fill in the order form, then fax it to the number below. Or call our free phone number right now and say "I want the Widget Special". Have your credit card ready.'
6. Style Tips
In this section, we have set out a range of tips that apply across every aspect of your sales copy - from the headline through to the call for action.
- Become an enthusiast for the product or service you are writing about. Let your enthusiasm shine through in every line you write.
- Don't try to be clever, funny or entertaining - your job is to sell.
- If you're not sure what style to use, simply write as though you're talking to your prospect, one-to-one.
- To hold your prospect's attention, keep your writing interesting and relevant throughout. Use engaging stories, fascinating facts, lively copy, and intriguing sub-headings.
- Avoid vague claims and empty superlatives, e.g. 'Our product will save you money' or 'Our product is the best on the market'. Be specific, e.g. 'Our product will save you more than $1500 every year'.
- Treat your readers with respect. In many cases, they will have more experience with products similar to yours (or the problem the product addresses) than you do.
- Write as if you're talking to one person. Avoid expressions such as 'listen, folks' or 'most of you'. Unless it's unavoidable, use 'you' only in the singular.
- Make your copy easy to read by using short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs. This applies especially when writing for the Internet.
- Likewise, give your copy greater impact by using bullet points, graphics, visual text, and so on - especially, again, when writing for the Internet.
- Use jargon or technical terms only where required, e.g. to show prospects who work in a particular field or pursue a specific hobby that you speak their language.
- Put more emotional appeal into your copy. You need to engage your prospects' emotions as well as making a solid logical case for buying your client's product or service. This applies even when writing business-to-business copy. There is a well-known saying in advertising: 'The head justifies what the heart has already decided'.
- Dramatize statistics, and personalize them. For example, don't just say, 'Every year 4 million drivers receive a speeding ticket'. Instead, you could write, 'If you're a driver, there's a 1 in 3 chance that this year you'll receive a speeding ticket'.
- Translate technical specifications into something prospects can relate to. Show the reader clearly how the product features will benefit him personally.
- Play on the prospect's fear that if he doesn't take action now, he will miss out. Psychologists have found that 'fear of regret' can be a very powerful motivator.
7. Images, Testimonials and Order Forms
Here are some tips for ensuring that these important aspects of your copy all play their part in securing the sale.
- Give photos or images a caption wherever possible. Photos capture attention, so captions get a high readership. They are therefore a powerful place to get your sales message across.
- Whenever possible, use testimonials. Try to use the subject's full name, age, and city or town.
- With testimonials for publication on websites, include the subject's own blog or website URL if they have one. It will give the testimonial greater credibility if a prospect can click through to see the website of the person concerned for themselves.
- Photos of the person giving the testimonial add both interest and believability. Use their actual photo, avoiding stock photos that look like actors.
- Resist the urge to 'tidy up' the grammar or style of a testimonial too much. They are usually more believable in their raw, unedited form.
- Never makeup testimonials. If your client doesn't have any, ask him to get some, if necessary by running a contest or other promotion.
- When writing the guarantee, repeat the main benefit/s the customer will get from your client's product or service. For example: 'We guarantee that with our help you'll double your business revenues and profits within 12 months, or our services are free'.
- Don't be afraid to write strong guarantees (if you can persuade your client), as they can improve response rates dramatically. Businesses often fear that if they offer such a guarantee they will be swamped by claims, but this is unlikely. Studies have repeatedly shown that only about 1 to 2 percent of customers take up guarantees.
- Make the order form interesting to read. Calling it something else can add to its perceived value. For example, you could describe it as a 'risk-free subscription request' or a 'savings certificate'.
- Include more sales copy on the order form. Restate your client's offer and what the prospect will get when ordering. Ideally, a prospect who ignores the rest of the ad and only reads the order form should still know exactly what is on offer.
- When selling an information product such as a book, refer to specific pages, and show how the information on this page will help the reader. This makes the product more real in the reader's mind. For example, 'On page 57 you'll learn the one thing you should NEVER say when you are stopped by a police officer and accused of speeding.'
8. Checking and Editing Your Work
You may well have heard the old adage that good writing is rewriting. This advice applies with equal force to copywriting. In this final selection of tips, we list some ways to revise, polish and strengthen your work.
- Read your copy out loud. This will help you catch errors and awkward sentences.
- Be merciless in striking out any boring paragraphs. Sometimes the best way to strengthen your work is to strike out the first few 'warm-up' paragraphs you have written.
- Apply the 'So what?' test to every line of your copy. If you can say 'So what?' to a statement, get rid of it - or make it more compelling, more interesting or more relevant to the reader.
- Strengthen your copy by getting rid of conditional, hedging statements. Rather than saying, 'If you stick with this diet, you'll feel more energetic', say, 'As you watch the pounds melt away, you'll feel more energetic'.
- Avoid starting a sentence with 'There is' or 'There are', as these are weak phrases. Try to find a stronger, more concise alternative. For example, 'There are three distinct advantages to using our service' could become, 'Our service offers three distinct advantages'.
- Likewise, look for every instance of 'that' in your copy. Often this word is unnecessary and can be removed to make the copy more streamlined. For example, 'We all think that we are experts on our own children' can become 'We all think we are experts on our own children'.
- Remember the copywriting version of Murphy's Law: 'If a statement can be misinterpreted, it will be misinterpreted.' Keep an eye out for anything that is even slightly ambiguous and fixes it.
- Likewise, watch out for any unintentional double entendres, as these can cause you and your client considerable embarrassment. This is one case where having a dirty mind - or at least the ability to imagine having one - can be positively helpful!
- If possible, get someone else to read your copy to make sure it's coherent and that the promise and offer are clear.
- Always run a spell-check before sending your copy to your client (though don't rely on this to pick up every mistake).
- Never proofread your work on screen. Always print out a version for final checking purposes.
- Finally, don't worry too much about whether other people like or dislike your copy. Remember that the only test that really counts is how well it sells.
BOOSTING YOUR CREATIVITY
All copywriters need a good creative imagination, so in this section, we will set out some methods for boosting your creative powers.
A note of caution first, though. Top copywriter David Ogilvy - from whom we will be hearing more later - once said, 'If it doesn't sell, it isn't creative.' In other words, creativity for its own sake is of no value. The importance of creativity to copywriters lies in the ability to generate ideas for headlines, slogans, and concepts that capture the attention of prospects and help persuade them to buy.
One very popular method used to aid creativity is brainstorming. This technique was originally devised for groups working together to find solutions to specific, business-related problems. Used this way, the technique normally involves a group of people suggesting as many solutions as possible in a limited time. During a brainstorming session, nobody is allowed to criticize any of the ideas proposed. Everything said is written down or recorded, and afterward, the ideas are evaluated against agreed, objective criteria to identify those that have the best potential.
If you are working as a solo freelance, you are unlikely to have anyone you can invite to join you in a brainstorming session (though if you do have one or more willing assistants, by all means, use them). It is, however, perfectly possible for writers to use solitary brainstorming techniques. This can be a great way to generate a lot of ideas, from which you can then select the best for your copywriting project. Here is our recommended method:
Start by arming yourself with a notebook and pen, or use a tape recorder. Don't think you will remember everything you thought of during your brainstorming session later
- you won't!
Make yourself comfortable before you begin. Find a quiet room, free of distractions - television, telephones, street noise, other people, and so on. Some people do, however, find they can work better with their favorite music playing in the background. Choose what works best for you, whether it is silence or musical accompaniment.
Set aside at least half an hour for your solo brainstorming session. Relax and start slowly. Because you are working on your own, you may find it takes longer for the ideas to begin to flow. Don't worry about this. Stay calm but focused, and the ideas will come. Once they begin, let them continue as long as possible. If that takes you over the time you originally allocated for the session, so be it.
It's a good idea to set a theme for each session, especially if you are trying to generate ideas for a current project. If you're planning an ad for fitness equipment, for example, think of anything that could even remotely relate to that topic: exercise, weight loss, health, bodybuilding, muscle groups, and so on. Allow your ideas to branch off one another. For example, thinking about ideas related to health might lead to nutrition, and then on to diet. Try not to wander too far away from your theme, though. In the example above, if your thoughts then move on to what you're going to have for your dinner tonight, you will need to refocus on your original theme again!
Don't worry if it seems you're writing down wild and crazy things. Save sorting out your notes for later, and never stop the idea flow to judge or critique your ideas.
Take a break between the brainstorming session and the evaluation of your notes. Set your notebook or tape recorder aside for a few hours or (ideally) a day or two. Don't worry if at first glance many of your ideas seem ridiculous. Go through them all objectively, testing each one against the requirements in your brief. Even if there isn't anything you can use as it stands, often you will find that with just a little adaptation some of the things you came up with can be turned into great ideas for your copywriting project.
Allow, also, for spontaneous brainstorming. Once you've started using this technique, you will find that a relaxed state of mind can bring on a surprising deluge of ideas -
while you're taking a walk, gardening, or doing household chores, for example. This may become a regular idea-generating routine for you. Don't forget to keep a notebook and pen or tape recorder handy for these impromptu sessions.
Brainstorming is really just a way to engage the creative, intuitive side of your brain, which is often suppressed by the rational, analytical side. It's a powerful technique, and even if you are skeptical we recommend giving it a fair trial the next time you are struggling for ideas.
More Idea Generating Techniques
Here are some more methods you can use to help the ideas flow.
As with all systems for generating ideas, in order to come up with some good ones, you will inevitably also generate some that are not so good. Just as with brainstorming, therefore, it's important to be non-judgemental and note down every idea that occurs to you before you start to analyze them. The more ideas you can generate, the better the chance they will include some really good ones.
Excursions are mental exercises where you try to put yourself in someone else's shoes to seek solutions.
One example is the 'career excursion'. Here, you take on the role of someone in a different career or situation, such as a dancer, a fireman, an oil-driller, a teacher, a secretary, a shopkeeper or an accountant. In this role, ask yourself questions such as:
- What would I think of this problem?
- What would I use this product for?
- Why might I need this service?
- What would worry me about this?
- What would I most like about it?
- In what ways might I want to change it?
A variation is to use well-known characters and ask what would Sherlock Holmes, or James Bond, or Harry Potter, or my next-door neighbor think about this.
For example, say you are asked to write some sales copy for a building company. Imagine yourself as Sherlock Holmes (or Miss Marple, if you prefer) investigating the firm. What evidence would you be looking for that they are a reputable company? How would you go about researching them? What concerns might you have about them? What would you be looking to report on for your client?
This technique can be great for seeing a problem from a different angle and coming up with fresh solutions and approaches.
2. Forced Relationships
The concept of forced relationships is to generate new ideas by combining two normally unrelated ones. By forcing yourself to think of some connection between them, you may be able to generate a range of useful ideas.
There are various ways of doing this, but one of the simplest is to open a dictionary at random and use the first word you see as your stimulus.
For example, let's say you are writing an ad for a new range of herbal teas, and the first word you see in the dictionary is a shadow (this was actually the first word we saw when we tried this ourselves). At first glance, there is no connection between herbal teas and shadow, but a few minutes' thought gave us the following:
- Herbal teas have been in the shadow for too long.
- Herbal teas leave ordinary teas in the shadow.
- Herbal teas let the sunshine through the shadow.
- Banish the shadow from your life with herbal teas
- Herbal teas give you a lift without a caffeine shadow.
- Herbal teas bring you out of the shadow and into the light.
- There's not a shadow of a doubt - herbal teas are better for you.
- When your life is in the shadows, herbal teas let the sun back in.
Whether or not you like these ideas as they stand, any of them could, potentially, suggest an approach you might not otherwise have thought of.
A variation on this method is creating forced analogies. Here, you have to come up with ways the product is similar to some other object apparently unrelated to it. Again, this can help generate new ideas and approaches.
Applying this method to the example above, you might ask the question, 'Why is a herbal tea like a shadow?' Your answers could include:
- Both are a pleasure on a hot day
- There is nothing artificial about them
- They can appear on any occasion
- They take many different forms
- Neither is likely to be found in a desert (!)
Again, with a little adaptation, any of these could potentially provide you with a headline, a slogan, or an idea for the advertisement itself.
3. Image Surfing
When you find yourself stuck in a rut, the Internet offers lots of methods for breaking out of it. Here's one of our favorite techniques.
Go to the Google website at www.google.com, and click through to Advanced Image Search. In the box marked 'related to all of the words' enter some keywords related to the matter in hand. The more words you enter the fewer results you'll get, so limit it to two or three words. You can also include one or more random words.
Now click on the Google Search button and browse through the list of images. Many will be only distantly related to the keywords you entered and will trigger new thoughts. If you see an image that sparks an idea, you can click through to the actual web page where the image was found for further stimulation.
Image surfing can work even if the methods set out earlier have failed, as it uses pictures rather than words, and our brains process these differently. The exercise is best performed in a relaxed, almost meditative state. Don't try too hard to find connections. Just scan the images and see if any of them suggest ideas to you.
For example, let's say you're commissioned to write some copy for a motor insurance company. As keywords, you might enter car, insurance, and coffee (a randomly chosen word). When we tried this, among the images displayed we found pictures of a coffee-bean fuelled car (who'd have thought it?), a 'take a coffee break' dashboard warning light, a combination exercise bicycle and coffee grinder, and many more. Any of these could easily provide the inspiration for an original advertisement.
There are, of course, many other ways you can mine the Internet for ideas. At the most basic, you could just enter a search term in Google and click on 'I'm feeling lucky'. This will take you to the first site in the results list. Spend a little time exploring this and see if it generates any ideas you can use in your project.
Or, if you want to stick with image surfing, visit the photo-sharing site Flickr at www.flickr.com. Clicking on 'uploads in the last minute' will generate a completely random selection of images, some of which may suggest fresh ideas and connections to you. Alternatively, you can enter a keyword (or words) in the search box and see what pictures are displayed.
Any of the methods listed here can potentially give your imagination a big creative boost!
WORKING WITH GRAPHIC DESIGNERS
We referred to working with designers earlier in the article, and we now need to look at this in more detail. Graphic designers are crucially important to copywriters, as they are the people who turn their carefully crafted words into finished advertisements.
While good design cannot rescue poor copy, bad design can destroy the impact of an otherwise well-written advertisement. It is therefore essential that copywriters understand what constitutes good or bad design.
There are some differences of opinion about this, but in our view, good design is all about creating advertisements that maximize the response to the advertiser's message. Bad design, by contrast, often occurs where a designer isn't really concerned about sales, and simply wants to produce something that looks trendy and 'cool'.
One sign of a good designer is that he makes the effort to read the copy and understand it. A good designer - like a good copywriter - will want to know exactly whom an ad is aimed at, so that the design he creates will resonate with these target readers. He will bring his graphic experience to bear on the structure and detail of the advertisement, so that - in conjunction with the copy - it projects the desired image for the client.
Perhaps the most important thing a good designer can do, though, ensures that the copywriter's message comes through in the finished advertisement quickly, clearly and legibly, without any unwanted distractions. In this respect, the best design work should hardly be noticeable at all.
There are, unfortunately, many ways that designers can mar good copy. Here are three of the most common:
1. Hard-to-complete Order Forms
If your advertisement includes an order form for readers to cut out and return, ensure that the designer makes it large enough for readers to fill in. Avoid very small order forms or odd shaped ones that may look trendy but are difficult to fill in. Our advice is to have coupons that require no more than two cuts and are large enough for the average scrawler to fill in.
2. Illegible Typography
Young designers, in particular, are often guilty of overlooking one very important fact: as people get older, their eyesight gets worse. So setting copy in very small type poses a real challenge to many of your prospects, especially when combined with poorly contrasting colors or light text over dark backgrounds (a design favorite, for some reason).
Our advice is to ask your designer to stick to black text over a white background most of the time and use a type size people can read without reaching for a magnifying glass.
3. Meaningless Imagery
A common feature of poorly designed advertisements is the use of dull, predictable images. An example is a picture of a smiling executive standing in a city office, talking into his mobile phone or pointing at a laptop screen. This type of image has been used in thousands of advertisements, for everything from computer systems to business advice, investment schemes to courier services.
Such unimaginative use of 'stock' images is unlikely to grab a reader's attention - indeed, the reverse is more likely to apply. You should, therefore, try to avoid letting a designer get away with this. Our advice is always to use photos that show the product concerned is used. If the ad is selling a service, ensure that the images are clearly relevant to this. If necessary, ask your client to commission some original photography.
Of course, as a copywriter, you won't always have any choice over the designer used. Where you do, however, ask to see samples of his work, looking especially for points such as those set out above. A good question to ask any designer is how much repeat business he gets. If you find a good designer, be sure to get all his contact details and recommend him to any clients of yours in the future. A good designer will make you look good as well. (Unfortunately, the opposite is also the case.)
Compared to copywriters, designers are quite expensive, typically charging $800 to $1,000 a day. Furthermore, once a job reaches a designer, they effectively have total control over it. If the heading needs to be changed at this stage, for example, only the designer can do it. This means any changes to an ad at the design stage - even minor ones - can be costly. To save your client money, therefore, you should always try to ensure that any changes to your copy are made before it goes off to the designer. This is something you may need to educate your clients about. Some assume, naively, that they can go on making changes to an ad even after the artwork has been produced - and then get a nasty shock when the bill arrives. Obviously, as a copywriter, this is not really your problem. However, you will want to keep your clients as happy as possible so they keep coming back to you with work, and saving them money is one very good way of doing this.
Note: If you find you are regularly doing work that involves a significant design element, it is worth cultivating a partnership with a local design studio, as this will enable you to offer a 'dual service' to your clients. Design houses can also be a good source of work for freelance copywriters, as they typically do not employ copywriters themselves.
USEFUL ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Lastly, in this article, we would like to share some useful online and off-line resources.
We'll start with some websites that, in our view, every copywriter should have on their
Thesaurus.com - www.thesaurus.com
This easy-to-remember site is great for times you need a synonym or similar word quickly - it's far more comprehensive than the thesaurus provided with Microsoft Word. Check out also the sister site at www.dictionary.com.
Guide to Grammar and Writing - http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/
This is one of the most comprehensive free guides to English grammar on the Internet. It also includes lots of interactive quizzes to test your knowledge. It's an American site, but it explains differences in US and UK usage where required.
OneLook - www.onelook.com
OneLook is an online dictionary and much more. You can use 'wildcards' to search for words similar to your chosen word, phrases that contain that word, and so on. There is also a reverse dictionary; describe a concept and it will produce a list of words and phrases related to that concept.
iTools - www.itools.com
This site has links to a wealth of useful resources, including online dictionaries and encyclopedias, biographies, an anagram-finder, translators, dictionaries of quotations, currency converters, maps, and more.
Wikipedia - www.wikipedia.org
This free online encyclopedia is a great starting point for researching any topic. Just remember that anyone can write or edit Wikipedia articles, so they may not always be 100 percent accurate.
Refdesk - www.refdesk.com
This is another invaluable research resource. It describes itself as 'a free and family-friendly website that indexes and reviews quality, credible, and current web-based resources'. As well as dictionaries and encyclopedias, you will find the latest news stories, 'today in history', picture libraries, and so on.
RhymeZone - www.rhymezone.com
RhymeZone is a free online rhyming dictionary, useful for creating slogans, jingles, captions, and so on. You can also look up synonyms, antonyms, definitions, homophones (words and phrases that are pronounced the same as your chosen word), and more.
SpellCheckPlus - http://spellcheckplus.com
This is a free online spelling and grammar checker. It's handy for double-checking your work before submitting it. The free version allows you to copy and paste up to 500 words at a time. There is also a paid-for version which has no upper word limit.
WritersFM - www.writersfm.com
This online radio station for writers broadcasts interviews with a wide variety of authors (including top US copywriter Joe Vitale). The interviews are 'looped' so that they are repeated regularly, with new ones being added every month. Most interviews can also be downloaded individually as podcasts.
Findaphrase - www.findaphrase.com
This free phrase-finder will list common phrases that include any word/s you enter in the search box. It's a useful resource for creating headlines and slogans.
Finally, here are some books to consider adding to your library:
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss (Profile Books)
This entertaining and informative guide to punctuation became an international best-seller.
The Penguin Guide to Punctuation by R.L. Trask (Penguin Books)
This is a more formal, but nonetheless still highly readable, guide to punctuation. If you're unsure when to use a colon or a semi-colon, or in what situations a vocative comma is required, this book will enlighten you.
The Oxford Style Manual by Robert Ritter (Oxford University Press)
This comprehensive guide covers matters such as style, copyright, capitalization, and so on. It includes an alphabetical dictionary of words and phrases that can cause confusion.
The Copywriter's Handbook: A Step-by-step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells by Robert W. Bly (Owl Books, USA)
This classic guide to copywriting is still well worth reading today. Although some aspects are now a little dated, Bly's advice on persuasive writing has seldom been bettered.
In this article, we offered advice aimed at bringing your copywriting skills up to the highest possible standard and ensuring that your services are in ever-growing demand from clients.
We began by setting out practical methods for improving your copywriting skills, with hints and tips on every aspect of the writing process, from researching your copy through to editing and proofreading it. We discussed the importance of getting feedback from clients, and in particular how to accept - and indeed solicit - criticism. As we said in the article, the latter is very important, because if you don't get constructive criticism on your writing, it will be that much harder for you to improve.
The article went on to examine ways of boosting your creativity, including brainstorming and other idea-generating techniques. We discussed working with graphic designers, and how to get the most from the copywriter/designer relationship.
Following that, we set out some advice from the great copywriters of the past and present. And finally, the article provided a selection of online and off-line resources for further improving your copywriting skills.